Now in its 16th year, Suffolk’s Pulse Festival has been co-curated for the last four by producers China Plate under the auspices of Co-Directors Ed Collier and Paul Warwick. Ahead of the launch at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, Collier took time out to speak to Paul Couch about what the latest offering will bring…
So, Ed, with just over six weeks to go, how are things progressing for Pulse Festival 2016?
We open at the end of May. Things are really good – I think we’ve got a great line-up this year. It’s our fourth year of working on Pulse and it genuinely feels like we’ve gone from taking on an already successful festival and building on it consistently year on year. Broadly speaking the structure of it has stayed the same but I think we’re presenting better work than ever, but of course that’s subjective!
What are the benefits of a festival like Pulse?
I think what this enables the New Wolsey to do is present a different kind of work from the regular programme. So it gives us a chance to put work on in a context that breaks out of the regular shape of how things work. So we have, over the course of 10 days, what we feel is some of the most exciting theatre being made across the country, presented for the first time in Ipswich.
And it goes across a real range of the styles and genres, focussing on theatre but with some dance thrown in with our partnership with DanceEast; some emerging work from younger companies both regionally and nationally, but also some seriously big hitters with people like SpyMonkey coming in to close the festival with their Complete Deaths show, which is a real coup to have at the end of it.
I think the strength there is that we build something which has its own momentum over 10 days, so we very much hope that audiences will come to more than one show and feel that there’s something really special happening and they’ll see the shows in context with the other work rather than in isolation.
Your company, China Plate, has been producing Pulse now for four years. How do you think it’s changed in that time?
I think we’ve consolidated things around the theatre; we’ve tried to have a much more intense focus for the festival, so it feels like you’re joining something that has a really clear momentum. We’ve established more set patterns so that audiences know what to expect – the context is stronger.
Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to? Anything exciting?
We’ve seen most of the programme. How we shape it is by keeping our eyes and ears open throughout the year, to make sure we’ve got the best work we can have. But there are two distinct areas within that; it’s about 20 finished shows and about 20 shows in development. There’s some wild cards, some new companies, there are some younger companies and it’s really exciting to see some people who have come through for the first time. Then to have SpyMonkey closing the festival is fantastic – that show only went into rehearsal on Monday this week! So although we’ve seen bits in development, and we know the company well, I’m excited to see where they actually go with this, which is very high concept.
It does seem that Pulse is moving away from the huge amount of scratch work of previous years. Several of the productions have been doing the rounds for a while. Are you playing it a little safer perhaps?
I think it’s a context thing around work in progress stuff. We structure the festival around collecting work in progress into the first few days of the festival. The idea being that you see work like for like. So that the Friday and Saturday are Suitcase Day followed by a Scratch Day and all of that work is in development and each of those days culminates in work that’s come from that process right now. We also hope that within that we, therefore, create a really exciting thing for industry folks to get engaged with because it’s new work, exciting work from 20 or so companies in two days, which I think is a real draw for people to look at and we’ve actually extended that this year into the Sunday, so Sunday is for full shows but they’re full shows from people who are emerging or trying something very new.
So I don’t think we’re any more risk-averse than we were. I think it’s about providing the right context for audiences so they know what to expect. We’ve grouped together the work in progress at the start and then we’ve also got a little bit of more established work in progress at the end. People that our audiences will already have a relationship with. So we have brilliant Eastern Angles coming back on the final Friday with their new show and then on the Saturday, we have Gecko with a work in progress – still full length – of their new show.
So what’s on the menu?
Well, for example, Le Gateau Chocolat, who is a very well established cabaret artist who’s made his first full theatre piece for children. We then have a company called Scratchworks and one of their number is a former New Wolsey Young Associate, Sian Keen. She’s coming back as a fully-fledged professional artist, which is really exciting.
And then we have the Wolsey’s own People You May Know show, The Goldilocks Principle; we also have a show from the East 15 company who we’ve been working in partnership with for two years now to offer their graduate students an opportunity to present work in a professional context. The link between the New Wolsey and East 15 is increasingly significant, for example, last year’s Suitcase Prize winner [Police Cops] was This Theatre Company (now renamed The Pretend Men), a group of former East 15 students, one of whom again was a former Young Associate from the New Wolsey. So really strong connections there.
It’s a little late for new entries this year but what are the general criteria for getting work performed at Pulse?
There are two ways into Pulse. It’s partly curated and partly open call. We put out an open call every year and the closing date is usually the second week of January. And from that, we found maybe two-thirds of the pieces that we present. And then we bring in a third from work we’ve seen around the country. Actually, we’ve seen a lot of the work that’s applied before anyway. If people are interested in presenting work at Pulse, I would very much encourage them to get in touch with us before submitting an application, if there’re opportunities to see their work that makes a real difference. But we do take risks every year on work that we’ve not seen from people that we’ve not heard of before, particularly around Scratch Day and actively try and give people a chance to come into this programme of work totally fresh.
You’ll see work that’ll make you laugh, make you cry and make you think!
And particularly East Anglian artists?
Absolutely! And,in fact, the New Wolsey is increasingly looking to support the development of artists from the region. Pulse Presents has a very good network and a feel for what’s happening in the region.
Indeed, there has been some criticism in the past that, for an East Anglian festival, representation from the region has been scant. It looks like you’re addressing that this year?
I think we’ve got a really solid group of regional artists that the New Wolsey has supported in this programme who are who are based locally. There are there are a number of artists we talked about a couple who are former Young Associates. Also in addition to the ones we talked about we’ve commissioned Nigel and Louise who have regularly worked with the New Wolsey to make a new show called This Is What Men Do, which will be made in partnership with a group of non-professional female actors from Ipswich, which is really exciting crossover between community and professional theatre. Then we have another local artist, Rich Chilver, taking place taking part in the Scratch Day.
What would you say to convince someone who has never been before to attend Pulse?
You’ll see work that’ll make you laugh, make you cry and make you think! It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a programme we put together thinking about emotional engagement – we want people to feel something. We want people to feel it’s for them. But increasingly that has a political angle too; we want work to reflect the world in which we live. And I hope, if somebody comes to see a few shows with us at Pulse, they’ll see their concerns and feelings represented on stage and maybe question some of them as well.
What one thing would improve the festival?
Other than money? We have a fantastic and loyal audience and we’re amazed every year at the number of people that come and see the work we’re putting on. The one thing that would improve it is if we had even more people coming to see a lot of work themselves, although I think our audiences aren’t afraid to take risks. And while it might not actually improve it, if everybody stayed around to chat and talk about their experiences even more, that would be fantastic!
Pulse Festival runs from Thursday 26 May to Saturday 4 June 2016.
The Reviews Hub is proud to be Media Partner for Pulse Festival.